Grad School Mentorship: Terry Park, PhD

by | Aug 15, 2017

Your Rockstar coaches help you wade through the stress and expectations of academic life, and impart the skills you need to thrive in your careers and beyond. Through the Grad School Rockstars community, they help you become your best self. So why not get to know them a little better? In this series, you’ll get to know our resident Rockstar coaches: Cathy Hannabach, Kate Drabinski, Terry Park, and Julia Jordan-Zachery will share their thoughts on community, mentoring, careers, and more. This week, Terry talks about building community through careful listening, and how good mentorship is driven by patience and compassion—on both sides

What does mentoring mean to you?

Mentorship, for me, means considering the totality of the mentee. It means engaged, careful, and caring listening. It means asking questions and providing constructive advice that can guide the mentee to their own answers. Mentoring means patience and compassion on both sides, as mentoring in academia can be lifelong and often goes uncompensated and unnoticed. But it can yield so, so much. I’ve learned so much from my mentors, not just as an academic but as a human being, and I feel honored to pass along what I’ve learned to the students I mentor.

What advice do you wish you’d received as a grad student?

Even though I’m ultimately glad I attended graduate school, I still wish I had done more research and sought out more advice on what it’s like to be a grad student, to really know what I was getting myself into. I would have appreciated a bit more advice on the realities of the academic job market as well. I also could have done with more advice on selecting courses better suited for my research interests, as I sometimes selected courses with an undergraduate mindset, tending toward courses that sounded interesting, rather than courses that would’ve pushed me in the right directions.

What is your favorite way to build community?

I’ve moved around a lot for much of my life—and every year in the past four years—so although building community in each new locale has been challenging, it’s also something I’ve gotten better at. What I’ve learned is that building community takes time, even (and especially) in this age of social media. It doesn’t happen immediately but rather takes place over a series of conversations, meetings, and events, so that people see that you’re committed in a meaningful way. Perhaps just as importantly, you’re need to be committed in a meaningful way. Building meaningful community also requires listening and learning from those who have been in a certain place for much longer, who understand the nuances, challenges, opportunities, and needs. Once those relationships have been formed and that knowledge is acquired in a sustained, humble, and horizontal manner, then you can start to propose new ideas and projects that can advance a certain organization, or space, or neighborhood. Of course, it doesn’t have to happen in such a linear fashion, and since I’ve had to jump from one place to the next in such a short time, I’ve sometimes identified one organization that I trust and know I can help. For example, this past year in Boston, I fundraised for the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center by running the Boston Marathon for them. They’re a fantastic organization doing critical work in a specific place, and by fundraising and running for them, I met new people and, in turn, started to get invited to events that I probably would have never heard of.

What has your career journey looked like?

A lot of splashing around, followed by a line of life rafts thrown out right as I’m about to drown…

What do you love most about being a Grad School Rockstars coach?

The chance to impart my wisdom (in other words, what I’ve learned from my glorious mistakes) to people, and getting to know their exciting, smart, important projects. I also love being a part of a social justice-oriented, altac company that’s doing something truly innovative.

What makes you feel confident?